Pirates, sharks and moral crusaders: Social control in peer–to–peer networks

Jörgen Svensson, Frank Bannister


File sharing in peer–to–peer (p2p) networks is a popular pastime for millions of Internet users and a source of concern for copyright holders and for many others who fear the worldwide spread of offensive and illegal content. As file sharing proliferates, the question is what can and should be done to regulate this practice. Can and should governments cooperate to develop stricter laws and regulations and invest in wide–scale international cooperation in order to arrest Internet villains? Can and should copyright holders in the music, film and software industries extend their tactics of inciting fear, by randomly threatening customers with lawsuits in which they claim millions of dollars in damages?

This article explores a possible alternative, namely that of user self–regulation, and uses an empirical investigation of two different peer–to–peer networks to examine social norms in these networks and the informal social sanctions that are used to enforce these norms.

The results of this investigation indicate that some self–regulation already exists and suggest that it may be possible to strengthen this self–regulation to reduce the occurrence of some types of offences. However, there is a limit to the effectiveness of peer control of illegal and antisocial activities on the Internet.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v9i6.1154

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